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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Baker

Weed Eden Farm; Jim's mission to protect grassland birds by planting prairie.

grassland birds benefit from large acreages of prairie habitat
a Dickcissel perches on a blazingstar in the prairie

“Hey Jennifer”. Jim greets me warmly as he opens the door.  I smell soup coming from his kitchen.


“I would have been here earlier, but I forgot my purse at the butcher and had to go back”.  This was the second time since the Solstice that I left my purse in a public place. I’ve been so distracted lately. 

I planned this two-hour trip just after the New Year not only to pick up a lamb that I bought from Jim but to re-boot my head; reflect on the past year and carve a path for the coming one.  Driving is meditation for me.


Jim takes my coat, and we settle in around his kitchen table.  Ruth Ann, his wife, brings coffee, homemade wild rice soup made with meat from their very own free-range chickens and homemade bread served with thick, fragrant local honey.  He queues up his property on Google maps on his Christmas present ipad.


Aerial views define Jim perfectly.  He is a big picture thinker; a man who thinks outside of himself.


I remember the first time I met Jim.  He scheduled a consultation with me several months ago on an unseasonably hot September day.  I spent two hours with him walking the straight rows of his bean fields, listening to his vision for his 27 acres of paradise among the rural community of Clintonville, Wisconsin.  We walked along the fence of his grassy sheep pasture and among the tangled vines of his tomato patch, heavy with fruit.  Fruit, he said his granddaughter loved to pick.  I learned he was just diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, almost a side note it seemed, judging from Jim’s optimistic we discussed a strategy to implement the vision he had for his fields.


Jim’s mission is to protect grassland birds by planting prairie, which he has grown to love over the years teaching high school science punctuated by early mornings, nights and weekends farming his land.  By converting his fields of soybeans into an open meadow full of wildflowers and grasses, Jim will be creating food, cover and nest sites for bobolinks, meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows, birds in precipitous decline.  Although hayfields and pastures abound in this rural community, most are mowed and baled prior to chicks fledging from their vulnerable ground nests.   Others are fringed with shrubby fencerows, which act as highways for raccoons, opossum and skunk…. nest predators that relish eggs and baby birds.  Jim knows that his contiguous 29 acres, devoid of crisscrossing fencerows will benefit the birds that he loves.


Given his large acreage, I advise Jim to install his prairie meadow by seed, which is the most economical way to go.  Instead of planning one or two mixes, however, which is typical, Jim wants to plant eight unique mixes comprised of prairie wildflowers and grasses that thrive on the sandy soil that define his fields; eight brush strokes over the hills and valleys; eight different vistas to swallow as he’s tending to his sheep, picking tomatoes, or making soup.


“Thank you so much for the soup”, I say, pushing my chair in, remembering to take my purse.  “How much do I owe you for the lamb?”


As I write him a check, Jim waves away my comment about how he should charge more for his grass-fed lambs. 


Back in the car, instead of meditating on the yellow lines, I reflect on Jim and his mission; thinking of the birds (heard but seldom seen) that will benefit from one person’s vision. 


It’s the reboot that I need.


Jim succumbed to his Parkinson’s and bone marrow cancer in May of 2023.


© 2024 by Sparrow Land Planning LLC.

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